September 27, 2016

Saint Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, Martyr

St. Wenceslas
September 28th, is the optional memorial of Saint Wenceslaus of Bohemia (c. 907-929). He was the son of Vratislav I, Duke of Bohemia, whose family was converted by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, and Drahomira, daughter of a pagan chief; she was baptized on her wedding day, but never abandoned her pagan beliefs. His paternal grandmother, Saint Ludmila of Bohemia, was Wenceslaus' teacher. She instructed him in the faith and to be a wise leader. It was from her that Wenceslas received his commitment to imitate Christ. He completed his education at the university at Budweis.

When Wenceslas was 13, his father was killed during a pagan reprisal against Christianity, and his grandmother became regent. Jealous of the influence that Ludmila had on Wenceslas, Drahomíra conspired to have her killed. Ludmila was placed under house arrest. A short time later, three henchmen strangled her with her veil while she prayed in her private chapel. After Ludmila’s murder, Drahomíra assumed the role of regent and immediately began persecuting the Christian population. So arbitrary and cruel were her actions, that Wenceslaus was compelled, on behalf of his oppressed subjects, to succeed her posthaste.

In 925, at the age of 18, the good king Wenceslaus (as he is referred to in the popular Christmas carol) ascended to the throne. A devout Christian, and gifted ruler, he worked in collaboration with the Church to end the persecution of Christians, convert pagans, build churches and return exiled priests. Wenceslaus was renowned for his selfless charity. He was a father to his subjects, generous toward orphans, widows, and the poor. He carried wood to the houses of the needy, attended the funerals of the poor, ransomed captives, and visited those in prison. Filled with a deep reverence toward the clergy, he attended Mass daily.

The more Wenceslas was loved and honored, the more his enemies hated him. In September 935, nobles opposed to Wenceslas allied with his mother and younger brother, Boleslas, to assassinate him. His martyrdom is recorded in Lives of the Saints: "Boleslas had become father of a son, and Wenceslas was invited to be present at the baptism of the young prince. Although the holy king had reason to suppose that this invitation covered other intentions, he accepted it, in order not to manifest any distrust of his brother. Having gone to confession and Holy Communion, he went fearlessly to the palace of Boleslas. He was received with great honor and magnificently entertained. At midnight, before the banquet was ended, the Saint quietly left the hall, and went, according to his custom, into the Church. Drahomira seized this opportunity, and calling Boleslas aside, told him that the hour was now come when he could revenge himself and make the royal crown his own. … Seizing his sword, he [Boleslas] hastened, with some attendants, into the Church and stabbed his holy brother with such brutal force, that the blood bespattered the wall, where it is yet to be seen at this day."

Before he died, Wenceslaus forgave his brother and asked for God's mercy on his soul. While his death was for political reasons, Wenceslaus is considered a martyr since the politics arose from the Faith. The Roman Martyrology says of him: "In Bohemia, St. Wenceslas, duke of Bohemia and martyr, renowned for holiness and miracles. Being murdered by the deceit of his brother, he went triumphantly to heaven." The shrine of King Wenceslas is the site of numerous miracles. He is the patron saint of the Czech Republic where his feast is a national holiday, and is the first Slav to be canonized. O God, who taught the Martyr St. Wenceslaus to place the heavenly Kingdom before any earthly one, grant through his prayers that we, in denying ourselves, may hold fast to you with all our heart.

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